Build Cracks 2006 review

Charles Danby, ‘Kate Davis’ (Untitled, 37, 05/2006)

The Dicksmith Gallery is set across two floors, and its sense of ‘residency’ lends itself to the refractive new works that Kate Davis presents under the collective title ‘Build Cracks’. Climbing the narrow stairs to the first floor, the feeling of domestic museum is enforced by the refined and slightly austere first appearance of three lithographs encountered. The walls throughout have been painted a bold yellow, somewhere between canary and mustard, and although the room faces outwards to the street it has no windows. Internal lighting combines with the refined appearance of the work to accentuate a befitting sense of domestic space or private collection.

The framed lithographs are composite in makeup. In each, a pair of glasses sits awkwardly on top of a vase or vessel. While the improbable balance of the spectacles in each appears to defy gravity their unorthodox hybridisation (with vase or vessel) ultimately makes their precarious positioning plausible. The generic, functional and domestic nature of these objects is both complimented and accentuated by the utilitarian and mundane listings pages on which the lithographs are printed (Yellow Pages). Davis has treated these pages not simply as a surface to print on but as a textual collaborator whose underlying graphic uniformity remains visible through the overlaid print. Cut and torn, sections from the directory have been laid horizontally so that the text runs vertically down the picture plane. In one work a logo fits neatly into the pictorial surface of the overlaid print enhancing its form and curvature.

In Build Cracks (Glasses 2) (all works 2005) Davis takes this integration further manipulating the print so that its two layers become almost interchangeable; a detail of flowers emerges on the side of a vase, its pattern inferred part from surface print and part from the jumble of graphics printed below. On the opposing wall is a handrail. Slung over it is a pair of heavily glazed ceramic headphones. The tactile nature of their manufacture affirms an associated relationship to the original object rather than an absolute one. The unyielding rigidity of the ceramics is in sharp contrast to the flat formalist surface of the lithographs, and although the work at first seems oddly placed and even slightly clumsy, it evokes in its physicality and representational slippages, the hybrid prosthesis of the lithograph.

The upper floor of the gallery matches almost perfectly the lower. It appears empty as it is approached, and here too, the walls are yellow. Towards the far corner, angled and facing the entrance, is a freestanding work, Build Cracks (Music Stand). This piece comprises of a music stand and two pencil drawings. These sit like sheet music on the metal stand; the left is a portrait of the artist’s mother – a youthful charm captures the viewer’s gaze – and the right is a self-portrait of the artist as a young girl. Drawn in profile the line of the brow, nose, mouth and chin is barely visible against the thickly cross-hatched ground on which it appears to sit. Here, as with the lithographs, Davis has created two interchangeable layers. At times the portraits emerge from the dense crosshatch and at times they disappear into it.

Tucked neatly on the back wall of the upper gallery, and not immediately visible is Build Cracks (Microphones). Two ceramic microphones hang from a single hook, their yellow glaze matches the colour of the walls, while their weight facilitates the loosely twisting verticals of the cables by which they are hung. In a quizzical twist of humour, the microphones seem almost like ice-cream cones, their strong colouration and affectionate moulding provokes a notion of cartoon against their ordinarily sleek and ergonomic masculine design.

Davis’ willingness to explore objects intuitively as well as academically through sculptural, drawn and printed means affords a fluidity of narrative that engenders the complex language systems with which she engages. In one sense there is a dislocation to the work; the works are set in pairs across two floors within which they are isolated, but like the painted walls around them, the works overspill into each other and permeate the actual boundaries of the gallery. Microphones and headphones, Yellow Pages and yellow walls – the ‘cracks’ that Davis has built may be deceptive in their minimal and muted appearance, but they are significant and pervasive in this understated guise.